Russian left seeks unity after anti-Putin protests
Far-left leader Sergei Udaltsov and two centre-left members of parliament hope to harness opposition to the prime minister and prevent the protest movement dying following his election to a six-year term as president
A group of leftist leaders announced the creation of a social democratic movement in Russia on Thursday to try to turn three months of street protests into a lasting political challenge to Vladimir Putin.
Far-left leader Sergei Udaltsov and two centre-left members of parliament hope to harness opposition to the prime minister and prevent the protest movement dying following his election to a six-year term as president. “Our aim is to come to power in a civilised way,” Gennady Gudkov, a senior parliamentary deputy with the centre-left Just Russia party, told a news conference. “We propose creating a social organisation uniting the left in Russia and our historic task is to make sure a united left-wing party exists in Russia,” he said, offering cooperation with “all leftist forces”.
He and fellow Just Russia deputy Ilya Ponomaryov, who were joined by economist Mikhail Delyagin, said the movement would focus initially on fighting corruption and reducing poverty. It faces a tough task uniting the left. The Communist Party, Russia’s largest left-wing group after finishing second in a parliamentary election on Dec 4, has not responded to the call to unite and has kept its distance from the protests.
Liberal protest leaders such as former parliamentary deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov say the movement is not for them. The leaders also face a battle to unite left-wing groups split by ideological differences and personal rivalries since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. “If you are looking at the political shape of the left, the situation is desperate,” said Boris Kagarlitsky, a Marxist theoretician and socialist who heads the Moscow Institute of Globalisation Studies and Social Movements. “There is a high degree of fragmentation, there is no unity of action and no common project.”
They also face other attempts to capture the leftist vote. Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev proposed on Wednesday reviving a social democratic party he led from 2001 until 2004 although it had little success. Gudkov and Ponomaryov said Gorbachev, now 81, was welcome to become part of their movement. Their announcement was part of opposition efforts to keep the protest movement alive after a fall in attendance at rallies since Putin won the presidential election on March 4. The protests, the biggest since Putin rose to power, brought together nationalist, liberals, leftists and independent groups as well as individuals with no previous interest in politics. They were sparked by allegations of fraud in the December 4 parliamentary election which Putin’s party won but the protesters soon added demands for an end to Putin’s 12-year domination of Russia.
Putin has ignored most of their demands although the Kremlin has submitted a bill to parliament that would make it easier to register political parties and proposed electoral reforms, dismissed by the opposition as offering only token changes.
Political analysts say opposition leaders need to unite if they want to challenge Putin because changes in the party registration law could lead to the creation of numerous small parties which would cause him little trouble individually. Opposition figures are also worried that Putin has started a crackdown against them following his election triumph.
Udaltsov, who has been repeatedly detained after taking part in unsanctioned protests or refusing to obey police, was unable to attend Thursday’s news conference because he was summoned by state prosecutors. Gudkov said it was not clear why. reuters